The beach was a graceful crescent hugging the sea on the way to the mountains, the old, gentle mountains where the colorful houses climbed one on top of the other to take a look at that gorgeous spread of water that the beach was hugging so negligently. The houses and the thin serpentine of the road that was enjoying the view as well, instead of watching over its drivers, who were also often distracted. Unfortuntately.
The beach was famous and the people from all over the world would come to its warm, golden sands, rolling under their toes, pouring from their cupped hands, smooth and endless as time and stars and universe. They would come to its gentle and sparkling sea that was said to be emerald green, which was the most unfair description, since rarely there was found an emerald of such a spectacular green color pierced by a sunlight as that particular sea. They came to its rocks and caves jutting from the water, to its breeze that seemed to love everybody, they would come for the local sand-colored wine and the seafood — all cream and rose and dusty orange, — that the children of the local fishermen served on the stony terraces of the cafes overlooking the beach.
If you stared at the sun, then you couldn’t see the beach and the sea, everything was one blinding white light. But at dusk, when the sun was tired and worn out, the beach was mauve and gray and purple and lights twinkled invitingly at the village.
The people would come from all over the world, with their kids and their dogs. They would hold hands and smile to each other. They would teach their children to listen to the sea, to its constant song made out of ramble, sighs and moans as its waves would spread themselves over the sand, as if they loving it forever and then falling back. And the children would listen to the sea, they would listen to the sea, holding their breath and nobody would listen to the sand.
A truth must be said that the sand didn’t sing any kind of a song. It was mostly made out of silent types – the grains that got used to be hugged by gentle waves with passionate moans and then the next moment abandoned without any reason or explication. Such things make you tacirturn eventually, you know. Yet, they weren’t unhappy, those grains, because you get used to such things as well and with time – which you have plenty, when you are a sand, — you understand them for what they are: a part of life, a part of nature. A part of being a sea and a part of being a sand.
Not every sand being is alike, however, no matter how many of them are there. And not every one of them is world and wave wary, taciturn and yet strangely content like the rest.
Our grain of sand was one of those rebels. It wasn’t content, it was furious – furious with waves playing their eternal game with him, their embraces, their moans and their abandonment. Furious with the village and its lights, its houses and its road, that were so high and far, part mountain, part sea, full of people, movement, changes and sounds, all that life that was passing him by, its passage measured by those nymphomaniac waves that just wouldn’t make peace with themselves. He was furious with the horizon, that sometimes pitilessly sharp, sometimes fuzzy line, beyond which was the world of unknown, the life so rich and fragrant, the life without the beach and the sea. But mostly he was furious with kids and the dogs. Particularly, the dogs. Because they were not simply content to bring their lives and their endless energy to the beach, they were throwing it in your face just like they were throwing sand in the face of the people sunning themselves on their beach blankets. They were always running somewhere, going somewhere. They had lives.
Not him. He was stuck here, like generations before and after him, always to be cupped and poured, to be molded into sand castles, to be touched and stepped on and played with by endless strange toes, hugged and left again by endless strange waves.
And so, he was furious. Not with the fury of anger, but with the fury of hunger, of terrible, unclassifiable hunger, hunger for what he couldn’t name and couldn’t have.
Oh, how much he wanted to get away, never again being trampled on, never again being one of many, many exactly the same grains of sand. He dreamed of a life filled with a purpose, with something, anything, except being a tiny and insignificant, miniscule part of a beautiful landscape.
Excruciatingly impossible dream, but then all real dreams are impossible and the best of them are excruciatingly so.
But then one day something happened. A man came on a beach, he took his shoes off and put them on sand. And in one of the accidents that often happen on a beach, our grain of sand fell into a man’s shoe and when the man left the beach, the grain left with him.
What a ride it was. Truth to be said, it was terrifying and not comfortable at all. But it was life! Real life and not laying around on a beach! The lights and the sounds were overwhelming, overpowering and he could see how they could get oppressive, but they were also exhilarating and that was all he needed to know.
And no more sun, no more kids and no more dogs.
Eventually the man took off his shoes again, shook them violently, making hissing noises and the grain of sand fell out. It found himself in a strange place, nothing at all like the beach where he was born and raised.
Before it could take in its surroundings, it was lifted up again, thrown with other, strange grains of sand, then carried, dumped, carried and shaken again, and finally brought into a room full of noise, where a bright fire blazed in a furnace. The grain of sand was thrown directly into it, in heat and pain.
When he came back to his senses, it knew right away he was different, somehow transformed. He didn’t know it, but heat and pain do it for you. He felt himself somehow tall and slim and sparkling. Standing on a shelf in a department store, with all the lights trained on him, he finally thought: “Oh, this is more like it!”
There were people walking around, they didn’t held hands like the people on the beach and if they smiled occasionally, it was only when they would speak to each other. Everybody looked like they were searching for something, but the grain of sand didn’t care. He was excited — he wasn’t a grain of sand anymore.
“Is it mouth blown?” said one woman.
“Yes,” he heard a proud response of the other.
“I am mouth blown!” thought the grain of sand delightedly, though he didn’t know exactly what it meant. He only realized by the tone of voice of a woman who seemed to know everything about it, that being “mouth blown” was a very fine thing.
“These wine glasses are hand made by artisans, not one is alike. Each one is unique,” continued the woman who seemed to know everything.
“I am unique!” thought our new wine glass.
“I am artisanal!” thought he, swelling with pride.
It was then that he noticed the other wine glasses standing with him on a shelf. They were also tall and slim and sparkling. The wine glass felt himself bubble with excitement: “I am part of a very exquisite group – a group of mouth blown, artisanal made glasses, each one of us is unique! Think only of where I came from – a tiny grain of sand from some kind of a beach, where there is nothing but sun and sea! I am a success story, I am an inspiration – from the beach to a big store, from a grain of sand – to a sparkling glass! Maybe, one day I will be asked to write a book…”
While dreaming about his book, the glass was put in a box, swaddled in tissue and, after being carried around for a while, taken out again and put on another shelf. The door of a china cabinet closed softly in front of him and the wine glass looked around. This was a different shelf and these were different glasses surrounding him. He heard whispers, giggles and sighs. A sneer. And a snort.
“Well, hello, new addition to collection!’’ someone said. The wine glass looked around and saw that the voice came from a heavy crystal thick lipped glass shaped like a ball on his right.
“Hello,” said the wine glass, trying to appear as cool and smooth as possible.
“Let me do everybody a favor and tell you how things run here,” the crystal one went on without any preambula except the dubious greeting described above. “Stay away from the edge, stay away from the others, and you might survive.”
“Survive?” exclaimed wine glass. “What do you mean “survive”? Am I in danger?”
He heard some more giggles and some more sneers. The thick-lipped called out with a chilling laugh:
“Did you hear him, guys? Not exactly bright, are we? Or, maybe, the people at the store or shop, or wherever you came from, didn’t tell you anything.”
The crystal ball sighed heavily:
“Oh, well, what could they tell you, after all? What do people know about being a wine glass? They think it’s easy, they think it’s nothing… Let me tell you what it’s like. You have to always stay tall. Tall and beautiful, no matter what kind of mess is on a table around you. You have to hold your liquor no matter what. And you must, you must at all cost stay away from the people who have drunk from you plenty of times – their hands start to shake and they get sloppy. So, remember this: the more you give them, the more likely they are to break you.”
“Break me? Am I…breakable?” Suddenly the wine glass felt his throat drying out with fear.
Another guffaw of laughter.
“Hmm, how shall I put it? Mildly speaking, highly. Highly breakable. We, wine glasses don’t live long. Especially, in houses with guests or kids.”
“Are there guests or kids here?” asked the wine glass anxiously.
“Hate breaking it to you, buddy, but yeah… Lots of’em.”
Wine glass felt himself dizzy.
“And the woman of the house – stay away from her when she is talking – she cannot think and talk at the same time. Or talk and pay attention at the same time. When she is going for a glass while talking to one of her girlfriends – what can I tell you? Many, many victims.”
Suddenly, the wine glass felt both uncomfortable and even a little homesick for his warm beach with smiling people and dirty dogs.
“Especially, for a glass like you,” continued the crystal glass, which was not of a quiet sort apparently.
“Why me?” The wine glass heard himself sounding almost hysterical.
“Because you’re All-purpose, man,” added a tall purple cut-to-clear glass on his left. The Purple spoke with a foreign accent that made his voice sound strangely mournful. “Which means she’s gonna go for you every time she cracks open a bottle.”
“And that happens, like, everyday,” chimed in a voice behind him.
All-Purpose didn’t even turn to see who it was talking. “I am mouth blown, artisanal made, all-purpose glass. I am tall, slim and sparkling and highly breakable.” He was trying to take it all in.
“That’s why she put you up in front,” the crystal glass said again.
“Why are you in a front then?” All-Purpose felt anger rising in him to the rim.
“Because I am a balloon – I am for serious, ass-kicking full-bodied wines, Bordeaux, or the likes. You can’t put some crappy chardonnay in me; you will look like an idiot with a fishing rod in a library!”
“Hey, not a bad word about chardonnay there!” came an acid voice from the left.
“Shut up, you, urinal!” cried crystal Bordeaux and continued: “I am old-fashioned, man. I am from the age of steak “Diana” and baked Alaskas. Nobody does it anymore. Now they need guys like you, all-purpose, whatever, pour wine or water, it’s all the same, you will handle it.”
“Nobody wants to be educated about wine anymore,” came a reflective voice from the depth of the cabinet.
“Nobody wants to be educated about anything,” added the Purple one.
“So, why are you up front, if nobody needs you?”
“Because she hopes to break me sooner than later,” Bordeaux sounded surprisingly resigned to the fact. “It’s amazing what she puts in me just to use me up. Bitch! At least, let me die with dignity, at some antiques store…”
“Goodwill is more like it,” said the same voice that defended chardonnay.
“Shut up!” Bordeaux cried, but without much conviction.
“That’s horrible!” said All-Purpose.
“What about you?” All-purpose turned to the Purple. “Why are you at the front line?”
“I am last survivor,” Purple’s accent made him difficult to understand. “Everybody died, only no me. It was twelve of us initially. Wedding gift. You know what it means to be a wedding gift? First, when they buy you, they talk at length about everything wedding couple can find wrong with you. Then, after even THEY realize how lame it is, they go talking how too expensive or too cheap you are. Then they give you to new couple, who start going through the same – everything that is wrong or right with you. And how much you think it cost? Oh, let me Google it for you, honey. And then they whistle or sneer. And then they stop calling one another “honey” and anticipate each other’s wishes. And then they start screaming at each other and one day… well, one day they reach for some of us and bam it on floor!”
The cracking voice of the Purple filled All-Purpose with empathy he never knew he had. He didn’t even know empathy existed. Was empathy a water or a wine?
A single tear rolled down a spring of fern cut into a side of the Purple.
“Oh, clean it up, man!” Bordeaux suddenly lost his resignation and became wildly agitated. “Clean it up right now. Otherwise it will be like last time, when she thought she didn’t dry us out completely and that Champagne gal never saw a next party!”
Everybody felt silent.
“And if she does pick you up and if you get back alive, try to find another place than the one you are standing at right now,” Bordeaux started again. “It’s not that I don’t like you or that you stink with a store packaging, which you do, by the way, it’s just you will be safer somewhere else.” Bordeaux leaned so close, All-Purpose could smell a vague scent of dishwashing liquid coming from him: “This porto glass behind you… He loves pushing young and strong guys like you over the edge.”
“Why?” whispered All-Purpose.
“I don’t know,” Bordeaux shrugged.” Why do glasses do mean things? Feels useless, I guess. I mean, who drinks after dinner drinks now? They barely even serve dessert nowadays.”
And so All-Purpose learnt that a life of a wine glass is a life of interminable waiting and tension, enlivened by periods of unspeakable terror and sometimes, by occasional glamour.
Yet, it was made bearable and even agreeable by idle gossip and a sense of comradery he found with other glasses. Even a porto glass was nice on occasion. Or maybe, he was just faking it.
All-Purpose learned to tell the voices and the sounds that came from the people who lived in a house built around his shelf. Two little children screaming, laughing, singing. Nagging, squealing, reciting alphabet.
A man’s voice, low and rumbling, it could be warm and full of incredible charm when the lights were lit and glasses would sparkle on a white damask of a table cloth, surrounded by a laughing, talking crowd.
A woman with slender fingers and thin wrists, smelling of wind, she spoke and laughed and screamed a lot. She was the one most often reaching for All-Purpose, she was the one pulling him down by its fragile stem, she was the one hitting his rim carelessly with a neck of a wine bottle sometimes, if she was busy laughing or crying when pouring wine, or- simply not paying attention, which was often. Yet, when she held him in her warm and dry palms, pressing him against her cashmere sweater, All-Purpose suddenly felt warm and safe, like long ago on a beach. The beach and the sun and the smiling people that seemed now to happen in a different life. And noisy children. And those dirty dogs. All-Purpose wanted to weep.
Sometimes she held her children like she held him. Sometimes.
There was another woman, a short and stout one, who would come and touch everything, absolutely everything in a house with her quick, agile fingers and her soft rag, all the while speaking on her cellphone squeezed between her ear and her shoulder. She handled All-Purpose with delicacy and expertise of a delivery room nurse handling a newborn. If All-Purpose only knew what all those things were…
Yet, another woman would come almost as often. She would arrive in a cloud of cigarette smoke, mint bonbons and perfume. She and the woman in cashmere sweater would laugh and talk excitedly, gesticulating and making funny faces. They would fill the house with their voices and inevitably, the door of the glass cabinet would be opened and a thin hand would pull All-Purpose off the shelf as one pulls a pouting lover to one’s chest.
Every time All-Purpose would be pulled down, he would be dying from terror. And every time when he would be put back up, clean, dry and empty, he would feel faint with relief.
“I can’t live like that, I can’t take it anymore,” this thought kept ringing in his head and one day All-Purpose clinked it aloud.
“I can’t take it anymore!”
“Nobody can,” shrugged Bordeaux.
“Nobody can, but we all do,” said a glass that All-Purpose never noticed before. It looked like a delicate wine glass, but much, much thinner and shorter.
“What are you for?” asked All-Purpose, taking a detour from a topic.
“I’m for oblivion,” a strange glass said. “Well, technically, for celebration, but according to my experience, mostly for oblivion.”
“Hehe, look at this poet,” Bordeaux sounded positively contemptuous.
All-Purpose mulled over this thought.
“Do you get some of it?”
“Some of what?”
“Of this oblivion.”
“People call it vodka,” chimed in Bordeaux again.
“I’m immune by now.” responded the small glass. “And what would I need it for?”
“To forget all this — fear, pressure. At least, for a moment…”
“I don’t need to,” said the vodka glass. “If you think of it, all our life is just waiting, waiting to be broken. Earlier or later. So, what if I get it earlier? It just means, I bet the crowd, haha!”
“These Slavs and their philosophy!” Bordeaux chuckled.
Sometimes the man and a woman of a house would scream at each other. The glasses never knew who would start, because they would usually come into the room already screaming, their voices preceding their steps on a soft Tabriz rug. A woman’s voice would shoot like a machine gun, flattening everything around her, covering it with deliberate fire, while a man’s voice sounded like a cannon, low and slow, but terrible in its accuracy and killing power.
A couple of times she reached for All-Purpose with a shaking hand and he was sure it was the end. But each time All-Purpose went back on a shelf after being used, wiped out and empty.
Sometimes there would be no screaming. The women would stand by the window, staring at something nobody else saw, in silence that lasted just like All-Purpose’s terror – interminably.
On one such day she opened a door of a cabinet and reached for a Purple glass. She took it down and put it on a credenza. All-Purpose could see the Purple down there as clearly as if it was watching a movie. If All-Purpose only knew what a movie was.
A woman turned to pull a cork from a bottle and a sleeve of her sweater swept at the foot of the Purple like a warm sea. It stumbled and in one unbelievably long second fell to the floor.
All-Purpose saw it. Saw every little detail of it.
It saw a woman stare at the shards at her feet. She stood there for such a long time and so quietly, that the time stopped, waiting for her. Waiting for her to catch her breath, to move on. Instead, she never did. She just slid down to a floor. She sat there, a pile of cashmere and tousled dark hair, her head leaning gingerly against the warm wood of credenza, looking at the broken pieces of Hungarian glass in front of her.
This is when All-Purpose felt that it insanely, intensely missed the beach with its clear sea and warm sun, with its people smiling and holding hands, with its charming noisy children and delightfully dirty, smelly dogs. He thought of himself as a grain of sand he used to be once and to his own surprise he found himself wishing he could be it again.
This feeling was inexplicable, yet surprisingly comforting. All-Purpose found that if he thought of himself as a grain of sand, then this interminable waiting, this uncertainty, this fear wouldn’t be felt so brutally. They wouldn’t eat into his clear and fragile essence so much. That was an amazing thought and a fascinating discovery, but All-Purpose hasn’t been able to finish it, because the cabinet door opened again and a slender hand pulled him off the shelf.
All-Purpose knew right away something was afoot. The woman moved differently. She let the wine flow gently into him, almost sensually. When she poured the amount that she usually did, she stopped, considered for moment, and filled the glass to the rim. This was new. This was exciting. All-Purposed looked at her, smiling his invisible smile. But she wasn’t looking at her glass. She looked somewhere else. All-Purpose followed her gaze and saw that she stared at a long row of small pills. They stood there as an army ready to attack, each one of them, the glass knew instinctively, a terrible power in itself.
A woman drank the pills one by one, drinking wine as water. When the glass was empty, she put it down very very gently, as never before, as All-Purpose always wanted to be put down.
For a very long time after that nobody would touch the glasses. The woman with slender fingers and thin wrists would never come anymore. The one smelling with cigarettes, candy and perfume came once and her voice was husky from crying. The woman with the rag was there every week as usual. A man was there, his voice unsure and sometimes breaking. The vodka glass said that he saw him crying once, but nobody believed him. The children were there as well, they cried and then they were silent. And then everything started again – nagging, screaming, even laughing sometimes and reciting of the alphabet.
All-Purpose spent those weeks thinking about himself. What was he at the end – a tall and slim and sparkling that he wanted to be, or a grain of sand that he was born? And what did he really want to be? And what could he be?
As time went by, untouched and undisturbed, he finally felt his terror subside. Freed from his fear, All-Purpose would look back on the days when a woman was around and think of them. They weren’t so bad, after all. Those parties, those conversations! If only he hadn’t been so afraid, he might have been able to even enjoy them a little.
“I am a tall, slim and sparkly glass. I am eternal and perfect grain of sand. And because of that I am unbreakable and indestructible.”
He was still mumbling these words one day, when the door of the cabinet suddenly opened again and a strange woman’s hand with elegantly manicured nails reached for it. A woman he never saw before.
“Oh, this is gorgeous!” she said in a new, well-modulated voice, and caressed All-Purpose’s leg sensually with one of her fingers.
And All-Purpose did something he never thought he would be capable of – he accepted her compliment and her carress without fear, but with a world-weary-and-wise smile curling one corner of his invisible lips. With a smile and a courage of somebody tall, slim and sparkling. Like a grain of sand.